Baxtyar Anwar set off from Minsk for the Polish border in mid-November. He reached Germany on 23 November, where he died | Screenshot from video in Minsk
Baxtyar Anwar set off from Minsk for the Polish border in mid-November. He reached Germany on 23 November, where he died | Screenshot from video in Minsk

A 25-year-old man who managed to cross Belarus and Poland died late last month just after reaching Germany. Baxtyar Anwar’s body was returned home to Iraqi Kurdistan for burial on Sunday.

He began life in a refugee camp and he was to be buried in one. The body of Kawa Anwar Mahmood Al-Jaf, known as Baxtyar Anwar, was laid to rest in the Barika camp in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday. He was just 25 years old.

Baxtyar Anwar died three weeks ago in the early hours of Tuesday, November 23, in eastern Germany. He had crossed the Oder-Neiße River from Poland and was with a group of 11 others in the woods near Guben, in the south of the state of Brandenburg.

During the morning, one of the group made an emergency call for urgent help. Police say they found a group of seven people when they arrived, one of whom had died.

Baxtyar's fatal journey

Back home in Sulaymaniyah refugee camp, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the devastating news reached the family that photos which had been circulating on social media of a young man lying on his back, dead, were of Baxtyar. He had left home over a month earlier, in late October, headed for Belarus and Poland. 

It was already his second attempt to reach Europe. The first time, in September, he was caught and flown back home a month later. He had paid a smuggler around €7,000 to try again.

Half-way throught his journey, on November 13, Baxtyar sent a video from Minsk to Ranj Pzhdary, a Kurdish journalist and activist. The video shows a large number of migrants gathered in the center of the Belarusian capital. In the video, Baxtyar is explaining that a group of them are planning to head to the Polish border again. He seems confident and healthy.

The next time he made contact with Pzhdary was to tell him that Polish authorities were trying to force them back but that despite a "pain in his heart and in his eyes," he was determined to continue to try to reach Germany. After that, Pzhdary told InfoMigrants, he never heard from him again. 

Screenshot of migrants on the border, from Facebook
Screenshot of migrants on the border, from Facebook

Life of poverty

Baxtyar had spent his whole life as a refugee. He was desperate to escape the poverty and hopelessness of life in the refugee camp that was his home. His cousin Musa told the Kurdish news channel Rudaw that studying computing had been Baxtyar’s "ultimate dream."

His family had fled Iran during the 1979 Iranian revolution and ended up in a camp near Sulaymaniyah. After two years they were moved to the Altash refugee camp for Iranian Kurdish refugees near Ramadi in central Iraq where Baxtyar was born.

After Saddam Hussein was removed from power in 2005, when Baxtyar was about nine years old, the family returned to the Kurdistan Region and settled in the Barika camp, home to 700 families, according to Rudaw news.

Death at Europe's borders

Among the thousands of people who have traveled to Belarus in recent months hoping to reach Western Europe, hundreds have been Iraqi Kurds. Iraqis have also been among at least 12 migrants who have died since August at the border between Belarus and the European Union countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

With the media focus on the external border, less attention has been given to the deaths of migrants inside the EU. Baxtyar is not the only person to have died at the Polish-German border. In October, the dead body of an Iraqi man was discovered in a truck which had crossed the border from Poland into Saxony. Police said that about 30 other people had got out of the truck and described it as a people-smuggling effort gone wrong.

German authorities do not know why Baxtyar died – an autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death according to the public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt Oder. Pathology specimens have been kept in Germany for further examination, a spokesperson told InfoMigrants on Monday. Meanwhile the six people who were with Baxtyar have not been found and are being asked to come forward as witnesses, the prosecutor said.

In the Barika camp, Baxtyar’s death has caused immense sadness. Aras Mohammad, one of his close friends, told Rudaw that since the tragic news, all of the younger people in the camp have been in mourning. "People were very shocked and saddened by his death. The whole camp wore black," he said. "Baxtyar was a beloved young man in our camp."

Note: Rudaw news reported on Tuesday, December 14, that the Iraqi embassy in Poland is to offer Iraqi migrants stuck on the Polish-German border laissez-passers to voluntarily return home. InfoMigrants is investigating this report.

Correction note: The original version of this article (published November 14, 2021) said that news had reached Baxtyar's family that photos of "a young man lying on his back, frozen to death," were of Baxytar, suggesting this might have been the cause of his death. This is not confirmed. An autopsy was unable to determine the actual cause of his death.


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